Crossroads

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chapter 6

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Schuldig lay on his bed and attempted to slow his harsh breathing, to calm his thoughts enough so he could use his power. Rage boiled through his veins, flashed through his thoughts as impulses to destroy and to kill. He didn’t know who he wanted to murder more, Cassandra for lying to him about her visions of the future or Kudoh for somehow managing to end up back in Aya’s bed, even if it was only to sleep.

Yet he couldn’t harm either of them – not now at least. He couldn’t go into the old witch’s dreamscape as furious as he was, or else he’d risk falling into a trap or harming the cloak around Aya’s power. As for the man-whore… he couldn’t break his promise to Aya, even if he wanted desperately to trigger an aneurysm powerful enough to make Kudoh’s brains leak out his ears.

Aya would never forgive him for that. Oh, of course Aya could forgive his asshole of a lover but he’d never trust Schuldig again if he harmed Kudoh after he promised not to. And if that promise was broken, Aya would expect the rest to be as well and would no longer consider himself constrained by any of their agreements. Whatever level of trust between them would be gone.

Dammit. Schuldig’s hands clenched around the bedspread, his fingers dug into the soft fabric as he tried to control his temper. He had to remind himself of all the reasons why he couldn’t give in to his dark impulses right now. After all of his hard work, he was so fucking close. Aya was ready to shatter into a million pieces when Kudoh chose the bitch over him. In fact, it had almost happened earlier that night. And once Kudoh made his choice, Schuldig would be there for Aya, just like tonight, to keep him from truly shattering, to make the dreams come true; to become Aya’s lover in reality instead of just in their dreams. That would make everything he’d suffered during the long wait worthwhile.

But he still had a little longer to wait – and for the first time in months, he began to have some doubts that Aya would become his. Something was happening that he couldn’t control, something that cast shadows over hopes of his carefully crafted plans reaching fruition soon. What the hell went wrong? The need to figure that out was almost as strong as the desire to kill. Taking a shuddering, deep breath, Schuldig once again closed his eyes and tried to concentrate. Fine control with his talent was beyond him when he was this enraged, and fine control was what he needed right now. If he couldn’t risk going into Cassandra’s mind to get some answers, then he was left with Kudoh’s. As much as he wanted to shred the prick’s mind right now, his promise to Aya kept him from doing so. Barely.

He finally managed to calm himself enough to use his talent, but it took some time. The impulse to destroy was still there but it was subdued by his need for knowledge. He had to know what had happened to change things so he could put them back on track. Aya was going to be his one way or the other, and it would be easier to bring that future about if he had the necessary information. So he took another deep breath and concentrated on maintaining control over his temper and reached into Kudoh’s mind.

He found the cocklicker in the middle of a wet dream. Surprise, surprise, it involved Aya. The two men were kissing each other in a greenhouse, Aya’s open shirt hanging from his shoulders while Kudoh worked to unbutton his pants. Schuldig felt his temper fight against its restraints at the sight before him, goaded by jealousy. Kudoh had what he wanted so much; it felt like the bastard was flaunting that fact right now. So caught up in his own turbulent emotions, it took him a moment to realize that Kudoh’s had also taken on a darker edge.

Kudoh’s hands trailed along Aya’s shoulders and pushed the shirt down. Once Aya was completely naked, the man-whore’s hands skimmed up his chest, made Aya gasp with pleasure. They teased along his collarbones… and then it wasn’t Aya beneath him anymore but one of the bitches from Schreient. It was Neu, who was playing Weiss - especially Kudoh - for fools.

"Aya!" Caught up in the dream, it took Schuldig a moment to realize that it was Kudoh who had called out their lover’s name.

Neu chuckled while she wrapped her slender legs around Kudoh’s waist, her arms around his shoulders. "Your little kitten is gone, gone away. You’ll never see him again, I’ve made certain of that. Now it’s just the two of us, lover." As Schuldig watched, Neu began to change; her hair became shorter and then her body started to rot, half of her face slid away as it turned to rancid meat. "Kiss me, Yohji."

As her hands crept around his neck, Kudoh began to scream and tried to push the woman away while he called out for Aya.

"You’re mine! I won’t share you with anyone, especially not your little slut. He’s never coming back, Yohji. I’m all you have left," Neu, or more correctly Asuka, cooed darkly as her fingers tightened around Kudoh’s neck. "I’m not sharing you any more."

Schuldig watched on in fascination as the decaying woman strangled the life out of Kudoh. As much as he wished he was the one doing that, he concentrated more on the feel of the man-whore’s mind during the struggle. Something was wrong with this dream. It didn’t feel ‘right’. There was an element of manipulation to it, evident in how quickly it had turned into a nightmare, in how strongly Kudoh reacted to it. Pulling back ‘farther’ from Kudoh’s mind, he gave up on the dreamscape to try to track down the genesis of the nightmare. As an expert in manipulation, he was certain that someone else was behind this scenario. He wanted to find out who and why they were doing such a thing.

Searching about, he realized he could sense a familiar taint to Kudoh’s mind. A presence that he knew rather well… it occurred to him with stunned recognition that it was Cassandra’s. What did the old bitch do to Kudoh’s mind? Why did she do such a thing? Since the man-whore was caught up in his nightmare, Schuldig couldn’t dig too deep into his memories, but a few shallow scans revealed more of Cassandra’s tampering.

What was she trying to do? What was the purpose of these nightmares? Pulling out of Kudoh’s mind, he maintained a light link with the man-whore’s thoughts to monitor him while he tried to figure things out. As the nightmare continued, he lay in his bed, perplexed by the old witch’s actions. She shouldn’t have ever tried to mess with Kudoh’s mind like that, as she wasn’t a true telepath. Such a thing shouldn’t be possible, yet it was happening nonetheless.

During his musings, Kudoh’s dream suddenly ended. Schuldig ‘felt’ the man’s panic and guilt, the emotions so strong that they swamped his own for a moment. Finally breaking free from their hold, he scanned Kudoh’s mind to find out what had happened. In his dream, Kudoh had killed the cadaverous Asuka only to find that she’d turned back into Aya, which set off the overwhelming emotions. Schuldig ‘watched’ with interest as the man-whore jerked awake, for a moment utterly confused. Then he touched Aya, who slept peacefully beside him, as if to reassure himself that his boyfriend was still there.

Kudoh quietly got out of bed and dressed, his intentions to go check on Neu and make sure that she was all right as well. Along with a growing sense of guilt he felt, there was the desire to verify that she hadn’t turned into the grotesque creature from his nightmare. His thoughts were in turmoil: love and concern for Aya, guilt and regret and hope in regards to Neu. Such a heady brew swirling in the asshole’s brain, muddying his thoughts to such an extent that Kudoh couldn’t think straight. No wonder he was acting like such an idiot where Neu was concerned. Normally Schuldig would welcome such a development, but now he wasn’t sure it was a good thing.

Was this Cassandra’s fault? The nightmares did seem to be the trigger but Schuldig wasn’t sure. However, judging from how fucked up Kudoh’s thoughts were right now, it was highly likely that he’d do something incredibly foolish, something to break Aya’s heart. Was the old witch actually helping Schuldig with her tampering? Did she plan to aid him in his goal to obtain Aya? Considering how she felt about him, he had his doubts. It was one thing for Cassandra to do something for him that she’d been forced into, but for her to do so willingly… and to keep it a secret from him….

He could only wait and see what developed from this dream. Truly calming down for the first time since Aya had allowed Kudoh back into his bed, Schuldig closed his eyes and smiled. There was still a very good chance that the future he wanted so desperately would come about. However, considering what had just happened… there was no reason to merely assume that Kudoh would chose Neu over Aya. Nope, it would probably be best if Schuldig helped that future to come about, and there was one rather enjoyable way that he could do just that. Laughing softly, he reached out for a very familiar mind.

*******

Aya slid the shoji open and stared upon an orchard of blooming cherry trees illuminated by the light of a full moon.

"You know, they say that the sight of too much beauty can drive you insane," a confident, accented voice murmured in his left ear.

Somehow, he wasn’t surprised to hear that voice or to feel strong arms encircle his shoulders and pull him back against a warm chest. Somehow, Schu being here was an integral part to this dream. The telepath’s touch stirred images of them making love on a futon, Aya’s throat burning with pain that faded under intense passion….

"Stop it!" he cried out as he forced himself free of the embrace and took a step outside the small house, out into the moonlight. "Stop messing with my thoughts!" He had to get away, to put some space between them in hopes of vanquishing the dream and the traitorous emotions it woke in him. Once it faded, he turned to glare at the bastard responsible for what certainly seemed like the majority of his troubles.

Schuldig didn’t appear bothered by Aya’s glare and just gave him a sad smile. "I’m not doing anything right now. This isn’t a creation of mine, Aya," he said, his voice uncharacteristically gentle. "This is something your power is showing the two of us, utterly convinced that it’s a glimpse of the future." His demeanor suddenly became more certain, his eyes bright with passion. "There *will* come a time one spring evening, when the moon is full, that this dream will come true."

"Over my dead body," Aya spat and folded his arms over his chest to keep his hands from shaking. He felt cold now that Schuldig wasn’t near him but much preferred freezing to going back into the house and letting the bastard warm him again. That would be tantamount to giving in to the dreams, which he refused to do.

"Maybe." Schuldig frowned and leaned against the sliding door, his long hair fell onto his face. "Someone hurts you, that’s certain. Maybe enough to kill us both, and this is the heaven awaiting us after our deaths." He gestured at the cherry trees. "Not exactly the way I intend to spend the afterlife, but I can’t complain about the company!" he said with a leer.

Gods, what Aya wouldn’t give for a truly murderous rage right about now. But no, Schu - *Schuldig*, dammit - had taken that from him too, not to mention he was bound by his promise not to fight these dreams or Yohji would suffer. Yohji…. The thought of his lover gave him the strength and resolution he needed to fight back. "Get the fuck out of my head, Mastermind."

Schuldig didn’t seem to like that bit of defiance, his face twisted with anger. Impossibly fast, he bridged the distance between them and came to a stop right in front of Aya. "Ah, someone’s being a bit moody right now. Earlier tonight you were much friendlier and even fell asleep in my arms," he taunted. "What, or should I say who, caused this sudden change in temperament?" Schuldig cocked an eyebrow. "You catching your asshole lover’s stupidity or what?"

Aya’s hands clenched into fists as dearly missed anger simmered inside his chest. Unfortunately, only part of it was for Schuldig, the rest was directed at himself. He couldn’t believe that he was standing here and not fighting, that he just leaned closer to the bastard for a hint of warmth; that he remembered the earlier dream with something perilously close to longing instead of revulsion.

Something had to be affecting him, something that was Schuldig’s fault. He wouldn’t let those false emotions distract him and make him trust Schuldig. "You just can’t resist messing with my head, can you?" he snarled, half with bravado and half that too-weak anger. "Why the hell don’t you just wipe my mind clean and make me into a doll for you to amuse yourself with until you grow bored?" He had to focus on the anger to drown out the other, more frightening emotions.

<Because I don’t want a doll, I want you. How many times do I have to repeat myself?> There was a hint of exasperation to the thought, and not a little anger. <You can trust me, weiße Kamelie. I’m not the one who’s going to break your heart and leave you alone. Do you know where your precious Yohji is right now? Hmmm?> Schuldig’s ‘voice’ took on a gloating tone, the emotion reflected on his face. <He left your bed to go spend time with his precious Neu.>

Why did the bastard’s voice in his head feel so right? Even with that devastating news, he felt a thrill of pleasure over Schuldig using his talent. Marshaling his anger, Aya glared at Schuldig and took another step back to put more space between them. "How do you know this? Still screwing around with his thoughts, are you? Making him think Neu is Asuka?" he asked venomously, desperately latching on to something to fuel his temper. Desperately blaming Schuldig and not Yohji because each time his anger toward Schuldig inexplicably melted away, he became more and more afraid that the vision of cherry blossoms would come true.

The quicksilver flash of surprise and confusion that crossed Schuldig’s face at the accusation shook him up, especially when he felt an echo of that surprise. There should be guilt, not confusion, as if Schu didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. "I’ll admit to reading his mind," Schu said slowly, as if picking his words with care, "but I can’t ‘screw around with his thoughts’. My promise to you forbids that."

Suddenly feeling confused himself, Aya shivered and tried to hold on to his anger. Why was it whenever he managed to summon the emotion, Schu did something to him to drive it away, to weaken his resolve that they were still enemies? And how could he fight against that? "You’re the one who’s making him think Neu is his dead lover, Asuka. You’re doing this to break us up," he said, his voice not as certain as he tried to make it sound.

"I’m doing no such thing!" Schuldig snapped and stepped forward, his hands reaching for Aya. He frowned when they were knocked aside but didn’t stop until he was a mere foot away, their eyes locked on each other’s. <You think I’m fucking with the Schwanzlutscher’s head? Do you actually think I’m that stupid?> he demanded as his emotions poured into Aya. <I know you’ll never accept Kudoh’s betrayal if I play any part in bringing it about. Hell, you even forgave him for cheating on you and raping you.>

"Because you made him do it," Aya said, his voice raspy with remembered pain and fury. "You drugged him and told him what to do."

<Not exactly.> Schuldig sighed and shook his head, his fury replaced with need and frustration. "He was the one who decided to fuck the woman and then you, even if you weren’t in the mood. But," he added quickly when Aya managed a glare, "I admit he wouldn’t have done that if I hadn’t made her slip him the drug. Can’t you see my point here, Aya? I know you too well, know that you and he would much rather blame me for all your troubles, so I’m not doing a thing. That makes it even more delicious, the fact that Kudoh alone will be responsible for breaking your heart." There was a moment of silence before he continued, his voice soothing and reassuring. <I promise you that I’m not responsible for Kudoh thinking that Neu is Asuka, and that I have not influenced his mind in any way these last few months.>

Dammit, what really screwed things up was that Aya could feel Schu’s sincerity, could feel the reverberation of that promise with his unwanted talent and knew that the telepath wasn’t lying. One of the few times Schu told the pure and simple truth, and it would have to be over this. He shivered again as most of his anger slipped away in face of that promise. What was left was directed at himself. He should have known better than to latch on to Yohji’s explanation earlier that night but he’d wanted to believe it so much. Yet Schu had given him his word, and the very few times he did that, he’d never broken it. *Dammit*. Now Aya was left with thoughts he could entirely do without, with doubts he’d thought had been settled. Which was probably what the bastard hoped for, to keep him off-balance and easy prey.

And of course Schuldig pounced on those thoughts and doubts. <So Kudoh tried to blame me? And you believed him? I think you’ve some making up to do, precious.> Schuldig’s voice purred inside Aya’s head but wasn’t discouraged in the least when he scowled fiercely in warning.

"I don’t owe you a damned thing, Schuldig," he muttered under his breath, still mostly lost in his thoughts. "You might not be behind this but you’ve lived up to your name plenty of other times," he pointed out with real bitterness.

The next thing he knew, he was somehow back inside the house and slammed against the wall. Schuldig’s face loomed before his, the most furious he’d ever seen it.

"Don’t you dare play the wounded innocent with me, Aya," Schuldig spat. "You’ve wrecked more than your fair share of lives over the last few years. At least what I became was through no will of my own – unlike you. You chose to be a killer and a thief, it wasn’t forced on you because of fucked up genetics." The hands on Aya’s shoulders tightened painfully as Schuldig’s enraged glare bore into his own. "You had a chance to have a normal life but you threw it away, and now you’re trying to blame it all on me."

"Because it’s all your fault!" Aya hissed in fury as he knocked Schuldig’s hands aside then shoved the bastard away in an attempt to put some space between them. "You killed my parents! Aya-chan would be alive if it wasn’t for you!"

"Utter bullshit!" Schuldig yelled as they circled each other warily. "Esset is to blame, not me. If I hadn’t been there, you and your *entire* family would be dead! I just planted the bombs," he pointed out. "If I’d refused, I’d be dead along with you and some other person would take my place as part of Schwartz. You know the routine, Aya," he continued, his voice now more bitter than angry. "We’re just the peons who get stuck with the dirty work. Esset and Kritiker could care less about us, two very replaceable cogs in their vast machines. The only people we have is each other."

The truth about their employers hurt, but Aya didn’t focus on that. "I have Weiss. I have Yohji. You have Schwarz. We do not ‘have each other’. We never will."

A mocking smile curved Schuldig’s lips. "Schwartz knows the worst about me but that isn’t true about Weiss, is it? I wonder what they’ll do when they find out the man they’ve taken in is a freak just like their worst enemies. As for Kudoh…." His smile turned nasty. "Where is he now, dear Aya? When you wake up, will you find him curled up next to you in the bed you so graciously allowed him to return to last night? Or will he be at Neu’s side? Which lover do you think he’s more worried about right now, you or her? Past or present?" he continued, his insidious accusations worked inside of Aya’s head and filled it with pain. "The woman he nearly died for and became a killer to avenge, or the man he believes will always be waiting there for him, a good little kitten so well trained that he needn’t bother about silly things like fidelity and telling the truth?"

No matter what brought him and Schuldig together, it always came down to pain between them in the end, Aya thought with despair. And as much as he tried to change things, he was always the one being hurt. Yet he continued to fight back. "Go. To. Hell."

Schuldig chuckled, the sound warm and amused. "Now why would I want to crush that wonderful spirit?" He blurred into action, and once again, Aya found himself against the wall, Schuldig pressed against him. "I spared you that day, you and your sister. You both should have died but I disobeyed that order, risking not only my life but that of my teammates. I’ve watched over you these last few years, kept silent about your sister, kept you… mostly safe. As safe as I could, with you being so determined to become just like me." Aya flinched at that, earning another chuckle from Schuldig. "Oh yes, you’ve turned into me, precious, in more ways than one. I won’t pretend that I haven’t caused you pain over the years but you’re stronger for it. I’ve kept my word to you, and that you can’t deny." He leaned closer to Aya, their faces millimeters apart. "I’m not behind Kudoh’s recent behavior, guilt and repressed emotions are. For once, I’m the innocent here. Oh, not that I don’t take great pleasure in watching the man-whore ruin the one good thing in his life but all I’m doing is sitting back and enjoying the show. He’s the one breaking your heart. And this I promise you – he won’t stop until it’s completely broken."

What Schuldig said was such a confusing mix of truth and lies that all Aya could do was remain still and try and figure out which was which. Then heat flooded into him, warmed him through and through, a wonderful sensation that made him gasp. He felt Schuldig’s lips against his, a smooth tongue pushed into his mouth, and suddenly they were on the futon with Schu on top of him. His throat burned in agony but the pain slowly faded beneath pleasure as caressing hands stroked along his body, slid beneath the soft yukata he wore. There was so much confusion but he was certain of a few things. That the pain would go away and that he wanted – no, needed – this pleasure, that Schu had been right all along. And the most awful truth of all was the fact that Yohji had betrayed him while Schu, the man he had pushed away all these years, had saved him. There was heartbreak and love, betrayal and assurance and sorrow, all mixed up in a punishing whirlwind of emotion before everything was washed away by bliss and warmth.

Aya awoke with a gasp, his throat sore and body thrumming with imagined caresses as he realized that he was back in his bed. He could smell Schu’s cologne, still feel his hands stroking along his skin. He shuddered at the memories, inexplicably torn between regret and relief. Dammit, why did the bastard have to mess with his head and emotions so much? Why did his hated power always have to join in – on Schuldig’s side, no less? There were times when he wondered why the hell he bothered holding on to the bit of sanity left to him over these last few years.

He sat up, hunched over his knees as he tried to calm his breathing – and noticed that he was alone. Yohji wasn’t in bed, or in the room at all for that matter, and the spot beside him was cold. Evidently, his lover had been gone for a while. Schuldig’s words echoed in his mind about Yohji’s choice, which sparked a flare of anger and fear. He knew where Yohji was, couldn’t pretend otherwise for comfort even though he desperately wished to do so. He didn’t want to think about the fact that the man he loved was next door with an enemy, filled with concern for Neu and not concerned about him at all, once again.

Despite the pain of Yohji’s apparent betrayal, a fierce resolution filled Aya. He wasn’t going to let Schuldig be proven right. He couldn’t lose Yohji, wouldn’t let him go without a fight. Sliding out of bed, he quickly dressed in a pair of jeans and a black sweater. There was no way in hell he was going to let Neu take Yohji from him. He’d go over there and force the bitch to not only tell him where his sister was but to admit who she really was. If he had to shatter the illusion of poor, wonderful Asuka to do that, so be it. He just couldn’t sit here and let the vision from his dream come true.

*******

Omi groaned and fell onto his bed amidst a mess of floppy disks and printouts. He actually whimpered as he folded his arms over his head, his eyesight blurry and body aching from pulling an all-nighter while going over the most inane data possible. "It’s no good. We haven’t found anything close to a location for Schreient."

Ken, seated in a chair beside the bed, looked up from the binder he was flipping through to make a face. There were dark circles under his eyes and he seemed to be missing some of his usual energy. They were both tired. "Hard work, ne? Do you think we’ll ever find it?" he asked as he leaned forward.

Omi thought about the question and didn’t like the answer. "There are just too many possibilities." Feeling himself beginning to fall asleep, he rolled around a little on his bed. "There’s no choice, I’m going to have to ask Birman if she can look into it, too." He hated to bother her but maybe she and Mickey could find something they’d overlooked. Sighing from exhaustion, he felt a spark of warmth when he noticed that Ken’s eyes followed his every move, an expression of longing in them. Unfortunately, before he could do anything with the opportunity presented him, the emotion faded, replaced by weariness.

"That lab we were at was clean – there was almost no dust…. Schreient had to have used it for something, and recently at that, but any information we missed will be long gone by now." Ken grimaced as he slammed the binder shut and tossed it aside.

"Ne, Ken-kun, what do you think of her?" Omi asked as he sat up. They’d spent hours going through the data, now he wanted to focus on another important matter.

"Huh?" Ken blinked his eyes in confusion as he scratched his head. "You mean Neu, right?" The poor man, Omi really shouldn’t have switched gears on him like that, out of the blue. They both needed some rest – or a liter or two of coffee each.

"I feel bad saying this, but I think Yohji-kun might be…." Omi didn’t know how to say that a dear friend was being a blind fool.

Ken seemed to pick up on his thoughts, though, and looked just as uncomfortable as he felt. "You think it’s a trap?"

"Yeah." He leaned back onto the bed and hugged his arms around his chest tightly. "You see, there was this woman named Asuka… she was Yohji-kun’s girlfriend, you know?"

"Uh, yeah." Ken shifted on the chair to face him directly.

Feeling uncomfortable revealing some of Yohji’s secrets, Omi told himself that Ken deserved to know the truth since he was involved in the matter. "Well, Neu looks an awful lot like Asuka. But Yohji-kun said she was dead," he continued quietly, "so how did she…."

Getting up suddenly, Ken grabbed the mugs of coffee sitting on the desk and handed one to Omi as he sat down on the bed. Cradling the cup between his large hands, Ken stared down into its brown depths. "Don’t think about it too much. She could have been saved by Masafumi and brainwashed by him or something," he said in a rush, not meeting Omi’s eyes.

"No way." There wasn’t that much coincidence in this world, Omi thought, even with Aya’s involvement. And why would Aya *want* Yohji’s supposedly dead girlfriend to come back to life? If anything, Aya’s power would make sure that Asuka was truly dead.

"He might have done it," Ken continued. "You heard Persia, the… the Takatori were involved with Liott." He gave Omi an apologetic smile at the mention of his family. "There’s a connection there, no matter how weak."

"Yes, yes," he said with a large dose of skepticism after a sip of coffee. "However-"

A loud crash made them both jump and he bit back on a curse as cold coffee spilled onto his clothes and bed. However, he set the mug down and shook the liquid off his hands as he quickly followed Ken out of the room and down the hall. Somehow, he wasn’t very surprised to find that the source of the commotion was from the spare bedroom. Rushing through the open door, he came upon Aya, who was shaking Neu by her shoulders while Yohji stood behind her, a protective hand on her back as he frowned at his lover.

"Where is my sister?" Aya’s voice was raw with emotions, his eyes gleaming with anger beneath the fall of his bangs.

"Stop it!" Yohji yelled frantically as he reached out to Aya and actually pushed him away from Neu. Something dark flashed across Aya’s face for a moment, and then he began to struggle with his boyfriend. Not wanting to see the two men fight – especially over Neu – Omi charged forward to try and separate them. Forcing his way between them, he gave Yohji an unhappy look when his wrist was grabbed and Yohji tried to push him aside.

Joining the fray, Ken had the ill luck to be stuck trying to hold a furious Aya back. "Hold it!" he hollered as he tried to avoid being hit.

"What’s going on?" Omi asked as he remained between Aya and Yohji with part of his attention focused on Neu, who merely stood there behind Yohji. For someone who was the cause of a fight, she seemed awfully unconcerned.

"Please leave her alone for a while. You promised!" Yohji said, his eyes fixed on Aya, who didn’t seem ready to give up just yet. Poor Ken finally managed to shove him back a little more, but Aya waved his arms about as if he was still trying to reach Yohji or Neu. At least he wasn’t trying to hit Ken anymore.

"I told you that I would ask her about your sister," Yohji continued, some of the anger draining from him as he released Omi’s wrist and slumped his shoulders, as if in defeat.

Well, at least one of them appeared ready to end the fight. Maybe they’d get out of this without any bloodshed. "That’s fine, isn’t it, Aya-kun?" Omi asked with a tentative smile and hoped that Aya would calm down. He knew his friend was concerned about his sister and justly so. However, Aya continued to struggle until Ken shoved him over by the wall. He pushed Ken away with a frown but didn’t charge forward again, instead, he turned his back on them, his body tense with emotion.

Looking up at Yohji, Omi found him to be growing angry once more, his green eyes fixed on Aya’s back. "Are you going to remember your promise now, Aya?" Yohji asked, his voice quiet but rough.

Aya’s shoulders twitched at the words. "You better ask her soon, Yohji. You don’t have much time left." His voice still sounded raw, as if his throat was sore.

Yohji let a long hiss of breath out and pushed the hair falling onto his face back. "I’m well aware of that, love." He didn’t sound angry any more; if anything, he seemed exhausted. "I’ll keep my promise – if you keep yours."

Once again Aya twitched and his hands balled into fists at his side. "Aya-kun?" Omi asked tentatively when there was no answer for several seconds, not liking how his friend was acting. Aya seemed so closed off from everyone, especially Yohji.

Aya jerked a hand through his hair and stepped toward the door. "I’m not the one who breaks them, Kudoh. I keep mine, *all of them*." With that harsh, cryptic comment, he stormed out of the room, and moments later there was the sound of a door slamming shut.

Letting out a slow breath of his own, Omi tried to smile at Yohji and couldn’t manage it. As much as he wanted Yohji to reconcile with his past, this was beginning to tear the team apart. "Is everything all right?"

"I… have no fucking clue," Yohji mumbled, a sad look in his eyes. "I hope so." Then he shook himself briefly and grinned at Omi. "Gods, you look exhausted, chibi. Why don’t you and Ken go get some rest, okay?" He didn’t wait for an answer before he turned around to face Neu, who had stood there quietly throughout the entire fight. When Yohji gently touched her left shoulder and asked if she was all right, she smiled faintly and didn’t even seem to notice that other people were in the room.

Exchanging a confused look with Ken, Omi nodded as they did what Yohji had asked and left. He closed the door quietly behind him and frowned when he passed Aya and Yohji’s room. He didn’t like the fact that Aya was once more shut inside of it while Yohji was alone with Neu.

"What the hell was that about? Did you catch the gist of even half the conversation back there?" Ken asked as they made their way back to Omi’s room.

"No," he admitted with a lot of reluctance. "But I think there’s some sort of agreement between Aya and Yohji over Neu. Perhaps Aya’s agreed to leave her to Yohji so he can get some answers from her."

"Sure as hell didn’t look like he was doing that just then," Ken snorted and then yawned. "Listen, we’re both exhausted and somehow I doubt either of those two are going to get any more sleep this morning. Why don’t we rest for a bit and tackle the data again when we’re not so tired?"

Yawning himself, Omi smiled and nodded. "That sounds like a great idea." There was no point in taking the chance that they’d miss something important because they were exhausted. "See you in a bit, Kenken."

Ken reached out to tousle his hair, and the next thing he knew, Ken’s hand slid down beneath his chin and tilted it up. He felt a brief pressure against his lips and then Ken was walking away from him. "See ya."

Suddenly feeling better than he had for hours, Omi smiled at his friend and then slowly turned to enter his own bedroom.

*******

Yohji took a deep breath to calm himself and smiled at Neu. "Are you all right?"

She nodded, and a moment later spoke softly. "Yes. Thank you." She rubbed her hands up and down her arms as if she was cold. She probably was as all she wore was a large yellow shirt that he had leant her.

"No problem. Aya… he didn’t really mean to hurt you, but we think you know where his sister is being hidden and he’s desperate to find her," he explained and watched her very carefully. "Do you happen to recall anything yet about a sleeping girl with long, dark hair?" he asked, hoping that Neu would remember something that would lead them to Aya-chan. "She’s about… sixteen years old." She wasn’t really that young, but Aya said his sister hadn’t changed at all during her coma, as odd as that sounded.

Neu seemed to consider the question for a moment and then shook her head. "I’m sorry, but I can’t… I can’t recall anything." Her voice wavered slightly and she shivered.

He hurried over to the spare dresser and searched through its drawers. "Let’s see if we can’t find you anything to wear." He didn’t think she was lying. As a private investigator, he’d always prided himself on knowing when people told the truth or not, and he didn’t get any bad ‘vibes’ from Neu’s denial. But he had to admit that he wasn’t at his best right now. After a night of very little sleep, he spent most of the hours worrying about whether Aya was going to break up with him and then waking up to that nightmare…. Matters hadn’t been helped when Aya barged into the room and demanded to know where his sister was. The worst part had been the look of betrayal he’d given Yohji before the rage had taken over. Yohji had no clue at all how he was supposed to fix this mess now. He’d counted on his lover sleeping a little longer, and him be able to return to bed after he’d made sure that Neu was still alive, that she wasn’t dead as he had dreamed. All he wanted to do was make sure that the dream hadn’t come true. If it had… then Aya would be in danger, as he was in Yohji’s nightmares lately.

His search through what had become the communal dresser uncovered an old pair of Ken’s jeans and a white t-shirt and grey sweater that probably belonged to Aya. They should fit Neu well enough. A little more searching and he found a clean pair of worn socks. She could borrow a pair of Omi’s shoes and a jacket. "Here, why don’t you try these on?" He handed the clothes over and quickly turned around so she could change.

As if this was proof that he wasn’t imagining that Neu was Asuka, he didn’t feel uncomfortable with the fact that his back was to a known enemy. And Neu certainly didn’t take advantage of his vulnerable position. All he heard was a brief pause of silence and then the rustle of clothes.

Once she was dressed, he was getting her out of here, just like he’d planned to do last night in hopes that seeing the places where they used to go would awaken Asuka’s memories. He’d planned to wait a few more hours before leaving but that didn’t seem to be a very good idea right now. There was no telling if Aya’s temper and impatience would get the better of him, and Yohji didn’t want him attacking Neu again. Not until they were sure if she was Asuka or not. So they’d leave the Koneko and he hoped that Aya wouldn’t flip when he found that out. However, he would risk angering Aya in order to uncover the truth, to put an end to the nightmares.

He wasn’t leaving without saying a word to Aya just to avoid his furious lover. If Neu really was Asuka, maybe taking her to their old haunts would spark a memory or two. He could watch her closely to see if there was any reaction at all. And if she started to remember her past as Asuka, then it should be easy to find out where Aya-chan was being hidden. Aya would forgive him when he returned with the girl’s location, and then eventually calm down enough to understand his reasons for leaving in the first place. Once Aya was composed, he would realize that Yohji didn’t want to leave him for Asuka.

"Yo-yohji?" Neu said tentatively.

Turning around, he found her dressed, the clothes were a little too big for her slender frame. The sight made him think of Aya and how sexy his lover looked when he was dressed in Yohji’s sweaters. "You look good, but we’ll be sure to pick you up something that fits a little better for you while we’re out." She shyly answered his smile. "How does breakfast and shopping sound? Do you think you’re up to it?" he asked, his voice a little rough as he thought about Aya.

She nodded. Gods, Asuka had never been this quiet…. "Yes. I feel better this morning." She rubbed her shoulders a little and just looked at him.

He had to make her remember something, or prove to himself beyond a shadow of a doubt that she wasn’t Asuka. That wasn’t going to happen if she remained hiding in this room. They had to leave now so he could get his answers and make Aya understand that there was a good reason for his recent actions. "All right, let’s go."

He turned the light out and made certain to close the door as quietly as possible. An ache settled in his chest as they crept down the hallway, past the closed door to his bedroom but he forced himself on. Both he and Aya needed answers, and he was going to do something about getting them. One way or another, everything would be over by tomorrow. He hated to make his lover doubt his feelings like this, for even a short period of time but soon enough, things would get better. They’d move beyond the past together. He just hoped that Aya had faith in him for a little longer.

*******

Stifling a yawn, Ken walked toward the spare bedroom to see if Yohji was still there and, if so, if he and their ‘guest’ wanted any breakfast. Not that he gave a damn if Neu ate or not but he didn’t want to start a fight by just asking Yohji. His friend was definitely not thinking very clearly where the bitc- uh, woman was concerned.

He didn’t know if she really was Yohji’s old love or not, since stranger things had happened over the last year or so than someone seeming to come back from the dead. However, he didn’t like how Yohji seemed to be breaking Aya’s heart over Neu. Hell, he couldn’t remember the last time there’d been a physical fight between the lovers, yet that had almost happened this morning. Aya might smack Yohji or knock an elbow into his ribs when he got ticked off, but he much preferred to yell at him. For Aya to lose control of his temper like that, as if Yohji was an enemy and not his lover….

Not liking his dark thoughts, Ken quickly pushed the door open and hoped that he wouldn’t be walking in on another fight – or a half-dressed Neu. However, he didn’t feel very relieved to find neither of those things - or Yohji and Neu. The bed was neatly made with the shirt that Neu had been wearing folded on top of it.

"Yohji." He had a really bad feeling about this. "Fuck, what does he think he’s doing?" He stared a little longer at the bed before he hurried from the room. Just great, now he got to be the bearer of bad news to Omi and Aya, who were thankfully still asleep.

A thought occurred to Ken. Maybe he should just crawl back into bed himself and let them find out about Yohji on their own. That certainly would be more beneficial for his health. His ribs were still sore from Aya’s struggles earlier this morning.

Sighing deeply, he realized he couldn’t do that. Omi would probably need him there when Aya found out that Yohji had taken off with Neu. Then, more than just his ribs would end up hurting. He muttered a curse as he thanked God for once again proving to him how fucked up his life really was.

*******

Yohji sighed with disappointment as he walked down the street with Neu at his side. Dammit, the whole morning had been so… well, frustrating wasn’t quite the word he was looking for. Neither was bi-polar, but that described his mood of the last few hours. He seemed to swing back and forth between hope and despair as he drove Neu all over Tokyo. Sometimes, such as when they saw the hat or when they were at the restaurant they stopped at for lunch, she seemed to be on the verge of remembering her life as Asuka. But at others, such as the small park they were now leaving where he and Asuka would always celebrate their cherry blossom viewing parties, there wasn’t so much as a glimmer of recognition. Just when he felt certain one way or another about her identity, the next stop would completely change his mind.

"How are you feeling?" he asked with concern when he glanced at Neu and noticed how pale she’d become.

"I’m… a little cold," she murmured, her head bowed as if she was ashamed to admit such a thing.

He barely resisted the urge to drape his arm over her shoulders to draw her close. If she was Asuka, she hadn’t remembered him yet and if she was Neu…. "There’s a coffee shop just down the street, we’ll stop there so you can warm up," he said in a rush to distract himself from that thought. "How does that sound?" Neu looked up at him with a slight smile on her lips and, at that moment, he was overwhelmed with guilt when the expression reminded him of Aya.

Gods, Aya had to be absolutely furious with him right now for leaving without a word. He thought he’d told his lover last night about his plans for the day, but neither of them had been at their best then and Aya had probably forgotten all about them. Or hadn’t expected him to go off on his own with a potential enemy. Well fuck, he wasn’t going to let Aya follow him around, not after the way his boyfriend tried to attack Neu earlier. Nor was he going to let Ken or Omi tag along, wondering when they’d be allowed to kill the woman.

He remembered the hurt look in his lover’s eyes that morning, the way Aya seemed to be silently accusing him of some sort of betrayal. He hadn’t had a chance to tell Aya that he’d gone to Neu’s room to just check up on her and had stayed when he found her awake and actually in the mood to answer some questions - or at least attempt to, as she appeared to still be suffering from amnesia. Either she was one hell of an actress or her memory was utterly fucked up.

Sighing again, he noticed that they’d arrived at the shop and nudged Neu gently toward the entrance. "We’re here." His heart sank at her confused look and he gestured toward the glass door in front of them. "The café’s upstairs."

She glanced nervously at him and then cautiously opened the door. They went down a dim hallway and up a flight of stairs, and Neu’s hesitancy told him loud and clear that she didn’t remember the place where he and Asuka spent at least a few hours each week drinking coffee while they worked on their cases. Once more, his hopes began to dim.

He took a deep breath when they reached the small café and enjoyed the smell of roasted coffee beans, vanilla and cinnamon. "What would you like to drink? My treat," he said with a smile, considering she had no money whatsoever and he’d paid for everything so far.

Neu hesitated for a moment, and then in a soft voice said, "A vanilla latte, please". And just like that, he began to hope once again that she really was Asuka. His old lover had always ordered that beverage, even when the young man who worked behind the counter in the late evenings would chide her to try something new.

"All right, one vanilla latte coming right up," Yohji said while smiling like an idiot. Things would work out, Asuka would get her memory back and they’d rescue Aya-chan. Aya would be happy and forgive him. "Why don’t you find us a table?"

"I… I need to stop somewhere first." A blush spread across her cheeks as she bowed her head once more.

It took him a few seconds to figure out what she meant. "Uh, it’s the door down there on the right." His hope faded a little when Neu slowly walked away, plainly hesitant about being in an unfamiliar shop. He went to the counter to place their orders and tried not to think about the sudden lapse.

There weren’t too many places left that he wanted to take her now, and all of them were rather depressing to think about. He wouldn’t mind avoiding a certain alley for as long as possible…. In fact, it might be best to go home in a little bit and give her a chance to rest, maybe ask a few questions to see if he could shake any more memories loose. Not to mention he could then check up on Aya and find out if his lover had calmed down any, and to reassure him that everything was fine. Aya was just on edge worrying about his sister, which was understandable.

Neu spent several minutes in the bathroom, time he spent thinking about his lover and how things would change when Aya-chan was safe and sound once again. Then Aya could be more relaxed, more open, and maybe he could stop blaming himself for failing to protect his sister. As good as things had been lately, they would only get better. But they had to find the girl first.

Yohji smiled at Neu when she sat down and slid her latte over to her. She gave him a smile in return, the brightest one all day, and drank the beverage with obvious relish. That smile convinced him that it would probably be best to keep her away from Aya until they had the time to retrieve those blocked memories, even though he knew that Aya would be even more furious with him. Brute force wouldn’t get them the results they wanted, only patience would do that. He’d go back to the Koneko by himself to face his lover and do whatever he had to in order to bring about the dream that they would both be freed from their guilt. Once he found out where Schreient was, Aya would forgive him for everything.

*******

Crawford stopped pouring coffee when Schuldig entered the kitchen, a thoughtful expression on his face that was very out of character for the telepath. Past experience had taught him that Schuldig acting out of the ordinary was never a good thing, as explosions of some sort usually followed – be they outbursts of temper or involving people, cars and/or buildings. What had him worried the most was the fact that he hadn’t foreseen explosions of any kind in the near future.

He finished pouring his coffee and returned the pot to the burner before turning around to stare at his teammate. "Do I want to know what act of chaos you’re contemplating now?" he asked, half afraid of the answer.

Schuldig flashed him an amused smile before fetching a clean mug. "Oh, nothing of the sort, so relax, mein Fuhrer."

His teeth automatically clenched at the name and the casual way it had been spoken but he did his best not to allow any more of a reaction to show. Damn Schuldig for picking up on how the nickname annoyed him; he didn’t need to let the pest know just exactly how much he detested that word and the image that went along with it. "No act of chaos or no contemplation?" he said, his voice perfectly smooth. "Please clarify, Mastermind. I prefer to be forewarned if half of Tokyo is to be blown up this evening."

"You’re the oracle, aren’t you?" Schuldig leaned against the counter and arched an eyebrow above a sparkling, pale green eye. "You tell me."

Ah, someone was in a contrary mood, as usual. Crawford sipped his coffee before answering. "I’ve seen nothing to indicate any… fun on your part, whatsoever, but I’m not infallible. You may very well be planning something so horrendous that my gift is blocking it out intentionally." He wouldn’t put it past Schuldig, not after working with him these last few years.

Schuldig almost choked on his coffee at the comment - as it was, he sputtered for a moment before he wiped his damp lips with the sleeve of his shirt. "And there are people who claim you have no sense of humor. If only they knew the truth, Bradley." He seemed to be in good spirits all of a sudden. "If you must know, my musings are more of a Zen nature than explosive. I’m just wondering about the vagaries of fate and prophecy, as well as things being different than they appear."

"Amazingly deep thoughts for you," Crawford murmured into his mug, just loud enough to be heard. "May I ask what brought on this introspective mood?"

Cradling his mug between his hands, Schuldig stared off into the distance. "Oh, basically things not working out the way I expected… but there being a possibility that the outcome may be even better for all the changes." His lips curved into the beginnings of a very satisfied smile.

Deep thoughts indeed, Crawford mused and became even more worried. "Does this have anything to do with Abyssinian?"

"Why do you ask that?" Schuldig tried to pull off an innocent smile before he reached for the coffee pot. "I don’t need to be a telepath to know that you’re about to tell me I obsess over the man way too much," he growled.

"I’ll take that as a ‘yes’, and you do indeed appear fixated on him." Crawford rinsed his empty mug and put it away in the dishwasher as he repeated a very familiar lecture. "Now is not the time to worry about romance, if I may call your infatuation such a thing." Schuldig stiffened in anger but then quickly slouched back against the counter, a frown on his face. "We have work to do."

"Not really," Schuldig sulked. "We have work to do in a few more days, during which you’d best let Farfie handle most of the killing since he’s bored out of what’s left of his mind."

"I’ve already promised him that he can handle Schreient," Crawford answered smoothly. "You’re to focus on the girl." For a moment he wondered how Schuldig could be so certain he’d win Abyssinian’s heart when he would be kidnapping the man’s sister but he knew better than to ask. After all, his own visions confirmed Schuldig’s belief.

"And what will Nagi be doing while Farfie kills his girlfriend, hmmm?" Schuldig asked in a very annoying tone of voice.

His visions which related to the boy’s behavior when Schreient was finally dealt with worried him slightly, but future visions assured him it would just be a temporary lapse of judgment on Nagi’s part. "Prodigy won’t be a problem."

"Never mind that he’s planning to see the girl when you go pay Schreient a visit later?" Schuldig shook his head, his hair falling down onto his face only to be shoved out of the way. "He thinks he’s in love with her." He snorted in derision. "Poor fool, she only cares about her precious daddy and her teammates."

Crawford hadn’t seen anything to predict that Nagi would leave Schwarz any time soon. After all, Nagi would be critical in their plan to take the Elders on, and Crawford’s visions included his presence for a few more years to come. "It’ll be a necessary lesson for him." One he’d thought that Nagi would never need to learn, considering how wary the boy was of other people, but it was probably the fault of teen hormones. No, Tot wasn’t the person he’d foreseen Nagi truly falling in love with.

Schuldig regarded him quietly for a minute, his stillness almost unnatural. "Is that why you haven’t strictly forbidden him to see the brain-dead twat?"

"Some things must be learned the hard way," was all he said as he straightened his tie and looked his teammate in the eye. "You know that better than others…. or so you should."

<And is there a harsh lesson awaiting me, Oracle?> There was a seriousness to Schuldig’s thoughts that was usually lacking at any other time.

He gave the question serious consideration and allowed Schuldig just enough into his mind to sense that. "I think… there are some painful lessons in your future, but not over loving the wrong person. Somehow, Abyssinian complements you. But the hints I’ve seen are more concerned with how you love, as opposed to who you love." With that cryptic remark, he left Schuldig to do some more contemplation. It would be good for the man to do so more often.

*******

Neu observed Balinese over the rim of her coffee cup. He held his cell phone in his left hand, as if he was about to call someone. A look of fear, pain and longing flashed over his face, the emotions powerful enough to stir something inside of her, and then he sighed. He bent his head over the phone and closed his eyes, and she thought she heard him whisper a name. It sounded suspiciously like ‘Aya’.

"Yohji?" she asked, her voice pitched to be quiet and uncertain. He immediately looked up at her and smiled, the expression was not very convincing.

"Asu-… Neu," he replied, a slight hitch in his voice as he corrected himself. The fool, to believe she was Asuka Murase, but she didn’t let any emotions other than shyness show on her face and waited patiently to hear what he would say.

He laughed nervously and scratched his head with his right hand as he put his phone away. "Listen, I have to do something right now. Wait here, okay?" When she nodded, he hastened over to the nearby counter and spoke to the man at the register for a moment. She watched as Balinese borrowed a pen to write something down on a napkin, then paid for another latte and a slice of pound cake.

The nervous smile back on his face, he brought the food and drink over and set it down in front of her. "Here, enjoy these while I’m gone." Then he carefully put the napkin with a phone number written across it next to her right hand. "That’s my number. I don’t plan to be long but in case you need to get a hold of me…." There was more nervous laughter and she could see the pain in his eyes. "You’ll be fine. I promise, I won’t be long. Just stay here, okay?" he pleaded.

Not about to turn down such a great opportunity, she agreed in a quiet voice. Yohji gave her another smile, this one more confident than the last and then quickly left the café.

Mindful of a trap, she sipped her coffee and nibbled on the cake for ten minutes. She was willing to bet that he was headed back to the Koneko or some other rendezvous point with Weiss. He’d been increasingly nervous each time she brought the topic of his teammates up, and he constantly took out his cell phone as if either willing it to ring or wanting to make a call.

A quick calculation of how far they were from the Koneko told her she had enough time to go to the cyber café a block away and send a message to Hell. She would find out what her sisters wanted her to do with Balinese and the rest of Weiss and if they were ready to spring a trap of their own. A slight smile curved her lips as she thought of their revenge. Soon enough she could put this simpering act behind her and kill Weiss, make them pay for what they had done to Masafumi. And it would all be Balinese’s fault.

All the research she and her sisters had put into discovering his past was paying off. She hadn’t done a perfect job of convincing Balinese that she was Murase, but he was falling for it anyway. And once he was completely convinced, he’d willingly lead the rest of Weiss to their deaths.

As she left the café, she wondered what it was about the dead woman that made Balinese act like such a fool. From what she’d learned, Murase wasn’t anything special, wasn’t brilliant and charismatic like Masafumi. No, Murase had been a nobody, a detective who wasn’t even smart enough to chose a decent partner. But if Balinese loved her so much, he should be happy that he was soon going to join her. They could be dead together, the two of them, and the rest of Weiss as well while Schreient lived on with Masafumi with them once more.

Things were going perfectly according to plan.

*******

Aya, his body aching even after a long soak in the bathtub, pulled on a black sweater, ran his fingers through his still damp hair and left the room. Exercising for several hours had helped to calm him a little, and he felt that now was the best time to confront Yohji about Neu. Hopefully he wouldn’t snap like he had this morning upon seeing his lover smiling at one of the women responsible for taking Aya-chan and sitting close to her while he patted her hand. No, hopefully not – but he knew he only had a tenuous amount of control over his temper. Schreient had Aya-chan and he’d destroy them to get her back.

However, Yohji wasn’t in the spare bedroom with Neu, nor was he down on the first floor. The kitchen showed signs of someone having had breakfast, with dirty plates in the sink and crumbs on the table and counter, the rice cooker empty. But no sign of Yohji and their ‘guest’, not in the living room or even in the shop, Aya realized with a growing sense of unease. That left the mission room, and if Yohji had taken Neu there, his lover better be prepared to be beaten until he recovered use of his brain. If Kritiker ever found out….

Hurrying down the steps, he heard someone on the computer and was rather surprised to find Ken hard at work and not Omi. Ken usually didn’t get along very well with computers, and Omi had forbidden him to work on them unsupervised after it had taken Omi two days to recover everything the last time Ken made this one crash. However, Aya thought with some regret, everyone seemed to be behaving oddly lately so perhaps he shouldn’t be so surprised.

Not wanting to disturb the man, who appeared to be concentrating so much on whatever he was doing that he didn’t seem to hear him come down the stairs, Aya leaned against the wall and folded his arms over his chest. He’d give Ken ten minutes to finish what he was doing and acknowledge his presence.

Five very long minutes later, his temper grew the more it seemed that Ken was purposely ignoring him, then Omi bounced down the steps into the mission room. He faltered a little when he noticed Aya standing there and gave him a wan smile. "Uh, I got nothing."

"Damn." Ken pushed away from the computer and rubbed his eyes. "We’ve checked out every lab on the list now. Where the hell are they hiding? Why the hell can’t we find them?" he asked in obvious frustration. "The info Birman gave us is crap!"

Omi glanced in Aya’s direction before going over to the computer. "I don’t think Birman would give us useless information."

Ken made a rude noise. "Yeah, like that’s never happened before." He shook his head, as if trying to clear it and then, still not looking at Aya, smiled tiredly at Omi. "We must have missed something. Guess we’ll have to go over everything again."

Aya had enough of being ignored. For Ken to so pointedly do that to him meant that either Ken was pissed off at him or was desperate to avoid him. Considering that Ken wasn’t one to avoid a fight, that meant it was probably the second. "Where’s Yohji?"

Ken actually flinched at the question and Omi went very still. The room was quiet for a few seconds before Ken, stuttering of all things, answered him.

"He went off to investigate on his own."

Aya closed his eyes for a moment, his worst fears realized. Yohji had gone off with the bitch, by himself. With no backup in case Schreient attacked him, and with a clear preference to be with Neu rather than him. Yohji must’ve been so happy to believe he had his precious Asuka back and couldn’t wait to be alone with her. There was a sharp pain in his heart and the rush of blood in his head sounded like a heavy rain pouring down.

"It doesn’t matter," he said, not sure if it was meant for himself or Ken. It didn’t matter that Yohji had finally made his choice or was fool enough to allow himself to be killed while he chased after a dream. Maybe, if Aya repeated it enough times, if he ignored the voice inside that called for him to remember his promise, he’d believe that. He turned around to leave the room to go practice some more, suddenly overwhelmed with the urge to destroy something. However, upon facing the stairs he found Yohji leaning against the wall behind him, with Neu nowhere in sight.

At first he felt relieved and overjoyed to see his lover, but then he realized the significance of Yohji, looking so determined and distant, being here without Neu. Once again he was filled with fury and hurt and doubt. Yohji was going to leave him for Neu, was probably only back here to tell him so before going off with the murderous bitch. Well, he wasn’t going to give in like he did last night. No way in hell. Right now he had to push past the pain and focus on the other person he loved, the person who needed him. "Where is Aya-chan?" he asked as he got in Yohji’s face, he let his anger mask his true feelings. He couldn’t stop his lover from leaving him right now if Yohji was dead set on doing that, but at least he could rescue his sister.

Yohji’s bland smile slowly faded away and was replaced by a frown. "I haven’t asked her yet," he said slowly, a hint of guilt in his voice.

Swallowing the sudden pain over how unimportant his sister was to his lover, Aya’s glare strengthened. "Then I’ll ask." Screw his promise, he couldn’t let things go on like this for much longer. He’d forgiven Yohji for so much, had declared his love so many times… but those actions meant nothing if Yohji loved someone else.

"Go ahead." Yohji seemed unconcerned about anything as he lit the cigarette that was dangling from his pursed lips. "But I won’t tell you where she is just so you can try and beat her up again." For a moment something sad passed through the lovely green eyes half hidden behind sunglasses, something that echoed what Aya felt but he ignored that as he grabbed his lover’s shirt and yanked him close. He didn’t know what he was going to do, if he was planning to actually hit the man he loved or shake some sense into him. Maybe he was just desperate to break the nonchalant mask Yohji was hiding behind or needed to touch his lover. Yohji didn’t do anything to fight him, either. In fact, he leaned into Aya’s touch and opened his mouth as if he was going to say something.

But Omi was instantly there and hauled him away from his boyfriend before Yohji could speak. "Calm down, the both of you!" Ken rushed over to lend a hand and pushed Yohji toward the stairs.

"You know how Aya feels, why won’t you help him, you bastard?" Ken yelled.

For a moment Yohji’s and his eyes met, there was so much longing and hope in Yohji’s gaze that Aya took a deep breath, his anger slowly faded away. A voice filled his head and reminded him that Yohji made a promise as well, had made his own declarations of love. Then Yohji shoved Ken away and pushed his glasses up his nose to hide his eyes. "Fine, but if she has no memory, what good is it to harass her? Or will you torture her until she confesses? She needs some *time* without anyone threatening her!" Maybe it was just wishful thinking on Aya’s part but he thought there was a pleading note to his lover’s voice.

He began to calm down, reminded again of his promise to Yohji last night, but now it seemed that Ken was the furious one. "What if you’re being fooled?" Ken asked bitterly. "Weren’t you the one who warned me before about being suckered by someone close to me? What about you? You’re being a fucking idiot, Yohji. Asuka’s dead and Neu’s just a lying bitch who’s making a fool of you."

Yohji’s eyes flashed wide as his glasses slipped down a little and Omi jumped out of the way as if he was unwilling to be caught in the middle of a fight. Ken actually appeared shamefaced for a moment but then his expression grew resolved and the slightest bit indignant. Before he could open his mouth to say anything else, though, Yohji suddenly whirled around and punched him hard enough on the jaw to knock him to the floor. All Aya and Omi could do was watch in shock.

"Don’t put your past mistakes on me, Hidaka," Yohji spat as he shook his right hand. "You don’t know *anything*."

Aya stared at Yohji and, with the sunglasses slipped down low enough to see his lover’s eyes, he found regret and love shining there. Yohji whispered Aya’s name before turning his back on all three of them. "I’m sorry, but if I don’t believe in her, then who will? Give me the time you promised me, Aya, and everything will be fine." This time, it was definitely clear that he was pleading with Aya. "Just a little longer and we’ll all be happy. Until then…." He shook his head and quickly moved up the steps.

Ken, still a bit shaky from the blow, rose to his feet and rubbed his jaw. "Yohji?" he asked loudly. "When are you coming back, you asshole?" There was no answer, of course, as Yohji was long gone.

Feeling drained and cold, Aya rubbed his hands up and down his arms but couldn’t stop glaring at where Yohji had been. Why did Neu have to look so much like Asuka? Why did Yohji have to be so guilt- ridden over his dead lover that he couldn’t see reason? As much as he wanted to have faith in Yohji, in their relationship, things like this did nothing but make Schuldig’s warnings ring true in his head until he couldn’t think about anything else. Not when Asuka was the one thing Yohji could very well leave him for.

"Damn, he was serious when he hit me," Ken complained, shaking Aya from his dark thoughts.

Omi went to their wounded teammate and carefully touched Ken’s red jaw. "You’re going to bruise if we don’t do something about that." Then, he was quiet for a moment. "We… I can’t blame him, not completely. She was important enough to him that he joined Weiss."

Aya glared at the stairs and refused to think about that, but Omi continued. "He’ll be back, though, Aya. Just give him the chance he needs to see everything clearly." Omi sounded so certain, sounded so very much like the voice inside that whispered about how Aya’s Knight wouldn’t leave him but the sound of rain almost drowned it out.

Confused by his own emotions, he didn’t say a word as he brushed past Omi and Ken and went upstairs. All he was certain about was that someone was going to get hurt before the day was through. While Yohji was off trying to recover Asuka from inside of Neu, an utterly hopeless endeavor, the fool was at risk of being betrayed by Schreient. Because Yohji believed the lie before him and tried to assuage the guilt by believing that Asuka was alive and returned to him. Neither of those boded very well, although Aya was more concerned about Yohji being hurt. He couldn’t handle losing his lover like he had his mother and father. And while part of him admitted that Omi was right, that Yohji did have his reasons for what he was doing, he still found his faith shaken in his lover.

He didn’t stop until he was back in the exercise room and, after locking the door behind him, he stripped his sweater off and began to warm up. He needed to move, to stop thinking about Schu’s warnings and where Yohji was right now, who he was with. He needed to stop thinking about his sister in the hands of his enemy, of the pain that filled his chest and the cold that began to make him numb to everything but that emotion. There was nothing he could do now, even the threads were too far out of his grasp so he would lose himself, for a short while longer, in the void of no emotions and stave off the shattering he knew awaited him.

As sunlight poured through the exercise room’s window, he found himself both wishing for and afraid of the rain.

*******

Dressed in a long, dark coat over his white pants and green jacket, Schuldig surreptitiously followed Kudoh and the Schreient bitch down a street lined with a variety of restaurants and shops. He watched their interactions very closely, his talent focused to read their surface thoughts.

Kudoh stopped in front of a tall, narrow building. He glanced up at the third floor window that advertised a record store and then looked at Neu. "I guess you’re wondering why I brought you here?" he asked, his voice uncharacteristically quiet. While it was very welcome to see the bastard so uncertain, Schuldig wished this kind of attitude was over Aya and not the bitch. If anything, Kudoh was too confident when it came to Aya, even after their fights today – but that would be his downfall.

Neu, clever little bitch that she was, noticed Yohji’s glance and put on a very good act of concentration. "I… music, I remember music. I… we… came here to shop…?" she said in a faltering voice, her head bent forward so she stared at the ground.

Schuldig felt like applauding, especially when he caught sight of the stunned expression on the man-whore’s face. For someone who prided himself on being a talented detective, Kudoh was oblivious to the fact that he had so many expressions a complete stranger could read like an open book. Well, a complete stranger skilled at reading people, that was. As little as Schuldig thought of the woman for her choice in loyalties and the mistaken belief that she could bring her dead lover back to life, he had to give Neu some credit. She was very talented at picking up on the slight cues that Kudoh broadcasted during their little excursions.

Kudoh, the moron, took her silence and reserve as shyness and uncertainty, but what Neu was really doing was concentrating on Kudoh’s mannerisms. Oh, she didn’t always figure things out, like when the man-whore had took her to their old office but she did it often enough that Kudoh actually believed she really was Asuka Murase. The fucking idiot, Schuldig thought with potent derision.

"She’s Neu, you stupid bastard," he muttered in German as he followed the couple down the street. He’d been inside her head long enough to know that there was nothing of Murase in there. There wasn’t much of Neu, either, as if she’d only come into being a few years ago. But even if she’d been Murase and lost her memory, Murase’s personality was no more. One could say that Murase was truly dead because Neu could never become the woman, not without living the exact same life as Murase did. Whatever happened to the woman had wiped her mind *utterly* clean, had left her as a blank slate that Masafumi Takatori molded into Neu – a true revenant, as Cassandra said.

Schuldig couldn’t hold back a cheerful whistle when Kudoh gestured about in an excited manner and pointed out various shops to Neu. Nope, the man-whore’s ex-lover was long gone and only a murderous, plotting bitch remained in her place. Maybe the asshole had enough sense to not want to replace Aya with his ‘ex-lover’ but the results would be the same as if he did.

A quick thought and Schuldig felt Aya’s anger, pain and disbelief. While the man-whore dragged Neu along on his trip down memory lane, Aya’s heart was slowly breaking. His faith in Kudoh had been nearly shattered by the cocklicker’s insistence in believing that Neu was Asuka. And the longer that Kudoh was gone with the bitch, the more Aya became convinced that things were over between them. The more time that passed, the more the dreams that Schuldig and Aya had shared pushed at Aya’s subconscious and whispered that he was being betrayed.

Oh, Aya still resisted and held onto a little faith in his asshole lover, Schuldig thought with anger as he used his power to cause a middle-aged man burdened with several shopping bags to stumble and fall. He felt the urge to destroy something at the excuses Aya made to forgive Kudoh, at the way Aya reminded himself about his promise and vows of love. The damn fool was so incredibly stubborn that Schuldig was half tempted to dive into Aya’s mind with his power and just *twist* things until Aya lost all faith in Kudoh. Yet he didn’t; he held himself back and reined in those dark thoughts.

As much as he wanted Aya, wanted his tuberose to meet him in that hotel room… he just had to wait a little longer. Schuldig felt his good mood return as he skimmed Neu’s thoughts. Maybe the cocklicker had proven more faithful than he would have guessed, but Kudoh’s grand intentions of just wanting to resolve the past and put it behind him would trip him up just as much as if he cheated on Aya.

Neu planned to use Kudoh’s infatuation with Murase to lead him and Weiss into a trap. She looked forward to personally killing Kudoh, to make him witness the death of his teammates as she and the rest of Schreient had witnessed Masafumi’s. And the poor little man-whore didn’t suspect a thing. Schuldig wondered how well he would react to his precious ‘Asuka’ trying to rip his heart out.

He grinned with malicious humor as he turned left at the next street and made his way back home. So little time yet so much to do…. As much as he didn’t want Aya to get hurt, he would have to remain in the background during Weiss’ upcoming battle with Schreient. He would use his tuberose’s power if he had to in order to keep Aya alive, as he couldn’t face off against the bitches just yet. No, that would be in a few more days and then he’d have the last thing he needed to gain Aya’s heart. Kudoh would practically hand his lover over on a silver platter and, once Schuldig had Aya, he was never letting the man go. Soon… very soon….

As he strolled down the crowded sidewalk beneath the bright, sunny sky, he felt rain fall down upon him. In a few days time the skies would open up and pour water onto the earth, and Aya would come to him tasting of rain. Once that happened, he’d have everything he ever wanted. That thought filled him with unaccustomed warmth and happiness. He’d have everything he ever wanted, would have Aya… and maybe, just maybe, if he were in a generous mood he’d put poor Kudoh out of his misery. After all, the man-whore probably wouldn’t want to live very long after being so thoroughly abandoned and betrayed by the two people he loved most in this world.

*******

Yohji’s hands trembled as he led Neu to an alley. He tried to hide the fact by forcing his traitorous hands to light a cigarette but was only partly successful as it took him several tries to get it lit. Neu didn’t seem to notice, she only stared ahead with an unreadable expression on her face.

This was where his life had ended. Goodbye Yohji Kudoh, ace private detective and hello Balinese, Kritiker’s killer dog. He felt the urge to laugh but instead smoked his cigarette until it passed. There was nothing he could do to change the fact that he belonged to Kritiker now, and that fact bothered him less and less the longer he spent with Aya. If it wasn’t for his mistaken belief that he could take on a big company like Liott, he’d have never met Aya.

No, the past was the past… but he still hoped to change a little part of it. What he wanted was for Neu to recognize this dark, dreary little alley and become Asuka once more. Just one small alteration to the past – that Asuka had been wounded, captured and brainwashed instead of killed. She’d be gone from his life just the same once they found Aya-chan but his nightmares should stop with that simple change. He wouldn’t have killed her, wouldn’t feel cursed to be responsible for the death of his lovers.

Neu came to a stop in the center of the alley, her eyes wide and her lips pressed tightly together, as if she was in pain. She remained like that for several seconds as he felt hope build in his chest that maybe *this* was what would unlock her memories, and then she suddenly bent over. He rushed to her side and wrapped his arms around her shoulders in an attempt to offer her support. "Hey, are you-"

"Here," she whispered, the words forced past her barely parted lips. "Oh, so much pain. There’s blood and pain… and you." She trembled violently, almost dislodged his hold on her as the words shocked him to the core. "Something bad happened here."

Feeling as if he could cry, he pressed against Asuka’s back, wrapped his arms around her and pressed a kiss against her hair. "Yes, something did. Can you remember anything else?" She wasn’t Neu, not if she remembered this place. She couldn’t be. This was Asuka, somehow alive and well and he blinked back tears at that thought. He hadn’t killed her.

She grasped his arms and hugged them tighter around her chest, as if she desperately needed to be held. "…no. I’m sorry, it hurts so much," she replied, her voice still a harsh whisper and he was surprised to find that she was crying. He’d never seen such a sign of emotion from cold, composed Neu and it only convinced him anew that he truly did hold Asuka.

Slowly moving them toward the end of the alley, toward sunlight, he kissed her on the temple once more. "It’s all right, babe, it’s all right." Maybe it was for the best that she didn’t remember everything.

"Something happened here, didn’t it?" Asuka said, her voice hitched from her tears. "I… oh, everything’s still so dark but *something’s* there. You’re there, and the office, and us…." She choked back a sob. "I’m her, aren’t I? I’m Asuka." She suddenly reached up to pat his face. "And I’ve hurt you, Yohji, oh…."

"Hush, babe." He captured her hands in his and placed a kiss on each palm. He felt a bit dizzy, felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from him, years and years of guilt. If Asuka was still alive then he hadn’t killed her, hadn’t hurt Aya for nothing. Now he could go back to the Koneko and hold Aya, could kiss him and reassure him that everything would be fine. The nightmares wouldn’t come true, they’d find Aya-chan and give Asuka a new life. There were so many possibilities all of a sudden.

"It’s not your fault," he told a quietly sobbing Asuka. "They… somehow the Takatori must have done something to you. But you’re okay now, you’re safe. I’ll make sure that you’re never harmed again." With Omi’s help, he could give her a new life, a new identity and she could have a normal, bright future.

They made it to the end of the alley and Asuka continued to cling to him, so much so that he leaned against a wall for support. All the while he stroked her hair and rubbed her shoulders to try and soothe her. This wasn’t the Asuka he remembered, she’d cried so rarely back then but so much had happened to her over the last few years.

He could still feel some of the love he’d had for her when they’d been together; he knew that would never die. But just as she wasn’t the same Asuka he loved, he wasn’t the same Yohji she knew. There was pain at the thought that he’d have to lose her again but it was for the best. The hurt would be bearable if she was happy, and he had Aya now. There was no way he’d lose Aya over a foolish chance to regain something that was lost forever.

That was, if he hadn’t lost Aya already. As he soothed Asuka, he remembered how Aya seemed to listen to him down in the mission room, how the anger and betrayal in his lover’s eyes faded when he pleaded with Aya for more time. The best way to make up for the suffering he’d caused was to honor his promise, to help return Aya-chan to her brother. Aya would forgive him then.

"I’m so sorry, Yohji," Asuka murmured as she pressed against his chest, her arms around him. "I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’m so sorry."

"That’s okay, babe, it wasn’t really you." He’d hold her just a little while longer before he had to let go. A part of him wanted so desperately to grab her hand and run far, far away, to try and reclaim who and what they’d been before the Liott case but it was hopeless. Besides, he’d never forgive himself for abandoning Aya, for breaking his word to always be there for his lover. While he’d never willingly have left Asuka all those years ago, fate had intervened and what they had then was gone now.

He brushed back the hair clinging to her tear-streaked face. "It wasn’t your fault," he told her and then smiled. "They used you, Asuka. Schreient… they aren’t your friends."

For a moment there was something dark in Asuka’s eyes, something that made Yohji’s doubt return but then she nodded. "I… I can see that now," she replied, her voice hushed.

For a moment he tried to imagine how she felt at finding out that the last few years of her life was a lie, that her friends had really used her but he felt too angry at Schreient to concentrate for very long. They’d taken a beautiful, cheerful, wonderful woman and turned her into a killer. For that, there would be nothing but swift death from Weiss, from him. They’d get Aya-chan back and then Schreient would be destroyed.

Unable to hold the question back any longer, he tilted Asuka’s chin to make her look at him. "Asuka, babe… where are they? Where’s Schreient?"

At first she looked ready to cry at the question, and then her resolve seemed to grow firm, a hint of the steel that Asuka had always possessed. "I’ll tell you, Yohji. It’s time for revenge."

*******

Omi rubbed his eyes and tried not to yawn. He was so incredibly tired of going over the same, useless information again and again and *again*. But they still hadn’t found any solid leads, a fact that made him think that Kritiker was once again leading Weiss on a wild goose chase on purpose.

Beside him on the couch, Ken whimpered. "Please don’t make me go through all this data again," Ken pleaded, his arm flung over his eyes.

"I hate to say it, but if we haven’t found anything by now, there’s nothing to find." Omi felt that the only reason they went through everything this last time had been to avoid running into Aya and telling him that they had no leads at all. Unfortunately, they couldn’t keep doing that forever.

The abrupt ringing of the phone made both of them jump. They stared at each other for a moment and then Omi scrambled to answer it. He prayed fervently that it was either Mickey or Birman calling with more information, for some kind of lead so they could tell Aya *something*. So, it came as a bit of a surprise when he heard Yohji say his name after he answered the phone.

"Yohji-kun? Where are you? Are you okay? Have you found anything?" he asked in rapid succession. There was both a sense of relief that Yohji was all right and anger over the trouble and hurt his friend had caused Aya.

Yohji actually chuckled, the sound warm and pleased. "Yeah, *Asuka* told me where Schreient’s hanging out." There was a pause. "Tell Aya that his sister’s supposed to be there, too," he added quietly. "She’s alive and, er, well."

As if summoned by his name, Aya came down the steps, once more dressed in black with a cold look on his face. Omi didn’t know how he could still move, let alone so gracefully, after spending most of the day doing strenuous exercise without stopping. But Yohji’s news should cheer him up and make him forget his pain. He smiled at his friend and mouthed Yohji’s name. "I’ll do that."

Then Ken pulled the phone away from him. "I guess you’re working the mission after all," he told Yohji, a trace of anger in his voice, most likely because of their fight earlier. "Now, where the hell are they?" He fumbled for a pad and a pen, which Omi quickly handed to him. As he wrote down directions, Omi went over to Aya.

"Yohji said he knows where your sister is. I guess… I guess Neu’s really Asuka after all." He held his breath, waiting to see how his friend took the news.

Aya didn’t seem very happy or sad about anything; the cold glare remained as he nodded once. "We need to get ready," was all he said before turning around to go back up the stairs.

Omi didn’t know what he expected, but it was more of a reaction than that. "Wait!" He was surprised to find himself grabbing Aya’s arm to make him stop. "He was concerned about you, Aya. He wanted you to know he found your sister. Things will be fine, you’ll see, once we get her back. Then you and Yohji can sit down and figure things out." The two men couldn’t remain upset with each other for much longer. What hope did he and Ken have if two people in love like Yohji and Aya couldn’t make a relationship work?

Aya stared at him coldly but the look wavered as he turned away. "Be ready in ten minutes," he said gruffly as he went upstairs.

Aya did have some of hope of working things out, didn’t he? Omi wondered. Yohji had called, had wanted his lover to know he was still thinking of him and wasn’t trying to run off with Asuka. And Aya had taken the news relatively well, considering it involved his sister and how he was acting earlier that day.

Omi started when Ken touched his elbow. "We better get going or he’ll leave us behind." Ken paused to look at him for a moment. "Are you all right?"

"Yes, I’m fine." When Ken didn’t move, he sighed and shook his head. "I just wish things were back to normal here."

"You mean Yohji and Aya screwing each other senseless instead of fighting each other? Don’t worry, they’ll be back to that soon," Ken reassured him with a pat on the shoulder. "If worse comes to worst, all we’ll have to do is lock them up in an empty room together and let nature take its course."

Thanks to all the times he’d caught the couple in the greenhouse, he could easily imagine what would happen and stuck his tongue out as he started up the steps. "That’s so terribly romantic of you, Kenken."

His friend flashed him a wicked smile that would have done Yohji proud. "Of course I’m counting on you to bug the room so we can sell the video footage. That should bring in enough that we can retire from the Koneko!"

He couldn’t help but giggle at the idea, and how Yohji would probably be flattered as hell over people wanting to see him making love to Aya while Aya would end up chasing after Ken until he dropped dead from exhaustion. "You better use the money to move to another country, you know," he pointed out. Then his smile faltered as he stepped onto the hallway floor. "Do you have a bad feeling about tonight?"

Ken sighed and squeezed his shoulder as if in support. "I think we better be on our toes." There was a seriousness to Ken’s voice that normally wasn’t there. "I don’t buy Neu suddenly remembering everything and being willing to turn on her teammates."

That was basically how he felt, his happiness for Yohji aside. "Neither do I, so be careful yourself." He waited until Ken agreed before hurrying to his room to get ready, figuring the only reason Aya hadn’t left already was because he didn’t know where to go. It only took him a few minutes to get dressed since he’d kept his working gear out in case they got a good lead on Schreient.

There was still a minute to spare on Aya’s time limit as they stood waiting in the garage for Ken, who showed up just in time. "Where are we going?" Aya barked, keys in one hand, katana clenched in the other.

"Back to the warehouse where we ran into Schreient before. Yohji said he’d meet us there," Ken said. Unsurprisingly, Aya didn’t wait for any more information before turning toward his car while Omi quickly grabbed a helmet so he could ride behind Ken on the man’s bike.

The ride to the warehouse was… harrowing, to say the least. Aya seemed determined to break every speed limit and traffic law he possibly could, and Ken rode right on his tail, never letting him out of sight. For a big, tough assassin, Omi had to just close his eyes and pray for the best after they were nearly hit by a tractor trailer. Maybe it was Aya’s power at work that ensured that they all lived through that drive.

When they finally arrived, thankfully and surprisingly in one piece, they parked their vehicles a safe distance away from the building and started to creep toward it.

"Yohji said he’d be waiting inside the lab," Ken said as he pulled his bugnucks on.

Aya grunted, his eyes fixed on the abandoned building before him. "What did he say about Neu?"

Ken flexed his right hand, causing his bugnucks to unsheathe. "That he’d leave her someplace safe and meet us inside." He looked as if he wanted to say something else but just snapped his mouth shut and hurried after Aya, who was stalking toward the warehouse. He shared an unhappy look with Omi and sheathed his weapon.

Well, so much for any elaborate plan. For his part, Omi brought up the rear, his eyes darting everywhere to try to find any signs that this was the trap he suspected. He held one of his darts between his fingers just in case his bad feeling was correct but there wasn’t sign of anything but last night’s fight as they entered the building and made their way to the laboratory.

"There’s nobody here," Ken said as they cautiously stepped into the room, his tone of voice both disappointed and dubious.

The scent of burning tobacco and the glowing end of a cigarette heralded Yohji’s arrival from a dark corner. Ken, and Omi both jumped and readied their weapons until they recognized him, while Aya just glared at his boyfriend. "Yup, it sure seems like it," Yohji drawled.

"Yohji." Ken approached him and gave him a slap on the shoulder. Omi guessed that he wasn’t pissed off about getting punched any longer. Yohji, who was dressed in his dark blue coat, smiled and brushed Ken’s hand aside.

"But this is the first place we checked out," Omi said as he looked around the room, trying to spot anything they’d missed before. All he could see was dust and broken glass. "We didn’t find anything to make us think that Schreient were still here."

"That’s because the real lab is in a hidden basement. Schreient’s been here the whole time." Yohji tossed his cigarette aside and went to stand beside Aya, an unsure smile on his face.

Aya acknowledged his presence with a long stare and then a brief nod. "My sister?"

"She’s down there, too." Yohji hesitated for a moment. "Asuka said she’s fine. Still unconscious but unharmed."

Aya’s face tightened, probably at the thought that he’d been so close to his sibling last night, and had walked away. Yohji touched his arm, and when Aya didn’t brush him aside, gave him a hug. After a few seconds, Aya hugged him back, tightly.

Ken, of course, immediately cut the tender moment short, which made Omi want to throttle him for interrupting the two men when they seemed on the verge of making up. "Right. Then, let’s go!" Ken smiled with eagerness as he headed for the door, the expression faltering into one of confusion when he was glared at in return. Omi sighed and relaxed his expression as he told himself it really wasn’t Ken’s fault that Aya and Yohji jumped apart and now seemed entirely focused on rescuing Aya-chan. He had to remember that he was in love with a wonderful, caring, dependable man but one who was also an idiot.

They went back downstairs, trailing Yohji who led them around for a bit, as if he was following directions, and eventually, they found a door in the back of one of the offices that turned out to be some kind of a tunnel. As Yohji dropped down, followed by Ken and then Aya, Omi reached into his backpack for a set of explosives. He knew that Schreient had to have another exit out of their underground lair since he searched this area last night when they’d made their unexpected appearance. He’d leave the bomb here to cut off Schreient’s escape and to serve as a distraction of sorts if something went wrong.

"Hey, Omi! Hurry up!" Ken hollered, his loud voice echoing through the tunnel.

Yep, he was definitely in love with an idiot who probably just gave away the element of surprise, if there really was any, by yelling to him like that. One more careful check of the bomb’s setting and he placed it beside the door. "Really. Why doesn’t anyone help me for a change?" he muttered as he quickly jumped down into the tunnel. Everyone just expected him to take care of things and cover their backs. Hmph.

A short walk in almost complete darkness and the tunnel led them to the underground lab they’d been searching for the last two days. It was an eerie space, looking ready to crumble at any moment, filled with huge vats that contained floating spines. Omi’s jaw clenched and his stomach threatened to rebel when he thought about all the women who Schreient had killed and mutilated.

"They have really bad taste in decorating," Yohji half-heartedly joked as he looked around, an expression of disgust on his face. He pushed his sunglasses up his nose and grimaced when one of the spines, either from the current or something else, wiggled slightly. Aya didn’t even seem to notice the gory surroundings, busy as he was scanning the entire place.

"Aya-chan, where are you?" he asked softly, the look on his face grew desperate the longer he went without seeing his sister.

A voice answered him from above. "She’s not here!" Tot giggled, and as they looked up in the direction the sound had come from, they found Schreient on the concourse level above them. Tot actually waved to them while Schoen and Hell remained still. "She wasn’t invited to the party!"

"Welcome, foolish men of Weiss," Hell called out, sounding like some villain from a cheesy action movie.

Tot giggled again. "Poor things fell right into our trap." Her high voice and laughter grated on Omi’s nerves even as the realization that Weiss had indeed been fooled sunk in.

"How does it feel to be betrayed by one of your own?" Schoen added, apparently not wanting to be left out of the tacky dialogue. Omi tried to figure out if the women were in his range and realized, rather disappointedly, that they weren’t. Glancing at his teammates, he found a very pissed off Aya and a shocked Yohji and Ken. He didn’t know why they were so surprised, especially Ken, at least until his friend spoke.

"Betrayed?" Yohji flinched at the word and shook his head in denial.

Still giggling, Tot pulled on a long rope. "Here goes!" she exclaimed brightly, just before a distant explosion was felt that caused the floor to quake and debris began to rain down from the ceiling. Everyone lost their footing and Omi had to drop his dart as he rocked back and forth, crashing into Yohji and then bounced back.

"What’s this?" Ken cried out as he tried to remain upright. Only Aya seemed to be able to keep his balance.

"Um, an earthquake?" Omi didn’t think that was an explosion, or at least not from his bomb. Whatever it was, it had been powerful enough that the floor still shook, wooden boards creaked loudly in a nerve-wracking manner. The sound suddenly became louder, but before he could react, the floor groaned one more time and gave way beneath him.

"Omi!" he heard Ken call as he fell, the impact knocked the wind out of him and something sharp scraped along his legs. There was the sound of another heavy impact and then Ken landed beside him.

"Ken!" This time it was Yohji screaming, but thankfully, he didn’t fall into the pit with them, Omi thought, befuddled with pain. There wasn’t enough room down here for three of them. As the pain increased, he wondered why he hurt so much from such a short fall.

Ken hugged him close, causing him to hiss in pain as he was jostled. A gentle hand touched his left leg. "I’m okay, but Omi’s hurt!" He bit his lip as the pain intensified, and then he suddenly began to feel very hot and nauseous.

*******

Yohji looked down at his teammates and felt a little relieved that Ken seemed fine. Omi, on the other hand, was bleeding and seemed out of it, his face growing flushed. They had to get the chibi out of there quickly and he started to look around for something he could tie his wire to so he could help pull them up.

"You better pay attention, or we’ll kill you," Tot shrieked. Gods, Yohji was ready to kill the girl just to get her to shut up.

Looking around him, he saw Schreient jump down from the concourse; all of them surrounded Aya. When his lover tried to defend himself, Hell and Schoen lashed out at Aya and knocked him down before he could strike them with his blade.

Rage and fear rushed through Yohji and made him lightheaded. "Aya!" His wire was out and ready before he took more than two steps, determined to keep those bitches from hurting his lover. Another step forward and his arm was arching out, throwing the deadly line forward to pull one of the women from Aya. However, just as he let most of it go, a figure dashed out of the shadows to stand between him and his targets. It only took him a moment to recognize Asuka, dressed in her Schreient uniform.

He quickly jerked back on the wire and cursed as he wondered why she hadn’t stayed at the coffee shop where he’d left her. She shouldn’t be standing here, with her arms spread wide, dressed as Neu. Gathering his wire in his hands once more, he called her name.

Asuka snorted in derision. "Huh, cut it out, it gives me the creeps. I’m not her." Her voice was so cold, now lacking the warmth that had been there all day.

The words cut into him and made him recall Schoen’s words about betrayal. Things suddenly began to make sense as he stared with growing dread at the woman he believed to be Asuka and shook his head. "What?" Maybe this was another of his nightmares. She had to be Asuka, she remembered so much.

"It was all an act and you didn’t doubt it for a second. You just wanted your dead, precious Asuka back." She sneered at him and, in the background, he heard a grunt of pain from Aya, the sound of flesh hitting flesh but he couldn’t seem to move. "You just cling to stupid memories like a fool."

"No, you’re-" he tried to say she was Asuka but she cut him off.

"No, I’m *Neu*. I am Masafumi Takatori’s assistant," she continued, her voice grew louder with conviction and pleasure, "his bodyguard and his lover."

He stared at her in shock, unwilling to hear the words that were almost drowned out by the sound of a whip striking flesh. There was another grunt from Aya and Ken’s worried voice floated up from the hole in the floor but he couldn’t move, couldn’t make much sense out of Asuka being back from the dead and talking about Masafumi Takatori as if that sick bastard was the love of her life. Didn’t she realize that she’d been brainwashed to feel this way?

The sound of laughter helped to free him from the spell. Schoen sounded much too pleased as she sneered down at the hole in the floor. "Oh, what bad luck! This place used to be a military facility, I’ll have you know," she taunted Omi and Ken. "It’s not strange to find all sorts of dangerous stuff down there, is it? For instance, something that can kill you if it got into your body." She laughed some more and rejoined Hell and Tot, who were still fighting Aya.

"Aya! Yohji!" Ken cried out, his voice desperate. "Hurry up and get us out of here!" Yohji tried to force himself to move, to look somewhere other than at Asuka, dressed as Neu. She remembered, dammit, she remembered being shot that day when he took her to the alley where he last saw her as Asuka. It couldn’t have been one big act to fool him and lead Weiss here to be killed.

He tried one more time to reach his former lover. "Asuka, try to remember! Please!"

There was another snort of disgust. "Asuka, Asuka," she said in a cold, singsong tone of voice. "What a pathetic man you are. Every time you call me Asuka, it makes me sick."

Ken hollered his name again. Behind Asuka he saw Aya get knocked to the floor. He took a step forward, the wire taut between his hands. "Asuka…." He had to reach her, had to make her remember and get out of his way so he could save his lover and teammates. He had to end this before Aya was seriously injured.

Asuka once again stepped between him and Aya. "How pitiful," she said in that flat voice of hers – no, in Neu’s flat voice. "You really don’t get it, do you? How easily I tricked you into believing I was that stupid bitch."

He took another step toward Aya, his anger grew with each passing second, with each blow Aya took. But he still tried to deny what was happening, to admit that the past had beaten him after all. "No, you’re Asuka. They’ve done something to you. You’ve been brainwashed."

"You and your simple ambitions," she sneered, and behind her Schoen did something that made Aya cry out softly, the sound was a blow to Yohji’s heart. "Are you really a man?" Neu taunted, "Not like my dear Masafumi, you’re nothing like him."

Masafumi. All she did was call Yohji a fool and prattle on about the sick fuck who Aya had done the world a favor of killing. The sick fuck responsible for making Asuka into a killer, whose girlfriends had taken Aya-chan and killed so many women and were now beating the shit out of his lover, who, for some reason wasn’t fighting back. "*Your* Masafumi?" he growled.

"Yes, mine." Asuka laughed and then lunged at him. "Die!" she screamed with pure rage and, as unprepared as he was for her to attack him, she managed to land a blow first to his stomach and then to his face, which made him fall back.

"I want you dead but just killing you won’t avenge him!" she screamed as she unsheathed a knife. "I’m going to torture you so you die slowly and painfully!" She lunged again and they both hit the floor, him on the bottom and Neu on his chest. "What a fool," she sneered, sounding just like Schoen. "A fool," this time in a soft voice, one that reminded him of how Asuka would always tease him in the exact same way. Then Aya cried out again. He caught sight of his lover down on his knees, bloody and battered, with the rest of Schreient circling around him. He heard Ken shout again, and saw Hell, a knife in hand, approach Aya. Something inside him snapped.

His hands whipped apart, the wire strung taut between them. Asuka was too busy gloating over how much of a fool he was to prevent him from wrapping it around her throat then rolling over until she was beneath him. He jumped up, wire still around her throat and hauled her onto his back.

He had to kill her, had to do something before she took Aya away from him yet again. Before the nightmare came true. He had to save his lover before Asuka/Neu hurt Aya even more, before she rotted away and he never saw Aya again…. He heard the sound of someone grunting in effort, someone choking, felt his muscles strain as he bent over but he kept his eyes closed, kept telling himself that he wouldn’t let the nightmare come true. He couldn’t lose Aya, not to a rotting, traitorous corpse….

"Masafumi…" Asuka choked, her body wracked with spasms, "I… love you…."

Words flowed into his mind, Aya’s and Asuka’s. /I love you./ /You’ll never see your kitten again, my love./ He screamed in agony and fury as he killed the woman he loved to save Aya, as he felt guilt and self-hatred grip him and tear him apart.

*******

Aya struggled to get to his feet, to find his katana before Schreient closed in, but he couldn’t find the energy. The warmth hadn’t come, Aya-chan wasn’t here, Weiß had been betrayed and all Yohji seemed to care about was Neu. His heart felt like a fragile, cracked thing when he thought about how his lover didn’t even seem to care what was happening to him, not to mention what happened to Omi and Ken. They’d been betrayed.

But he wouldn’t die on his knees like this. No way in hell. Even if he was doomed to fail, he would fight back against Aya-chan’s kidnappers. So he straightened his arms and tried to use them to push himself upright, and was almost surprised when he managed to do that. He was up just in time to avoid Hell stabbing him in the back, though he took another blow from Schoen in the process. At least, as he was spun around, he was finally able to locate his katana. Now to get to it before he was hit again.

As he started to inch cautiously toward his weapon, he heard Tot scream Neu’s name and then Schreient seemed to forget all about him. Going for his weapon, he heard a terrible sound, a scream of utter desolation and hate, and he stopped when he realized that the sound came from Yohji.

*******

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